Becoming More Physically Active
The adoption of a physically active lifestyle very often is a stepwise process. It involves different stages of change from not thinking about the issue (precontemplation stage), to developing awareness (contemplation stage), taking action to initiate a change (preparation stage and action stage) and then sustaining the behaviour (maintenance stage). Along the stage of change continuum, people can enter and exit a stage at any point. Besides, some of them can move quickly through the stages, some may get "stuck" at a particular stage, proceed more slowly or even take a step backward before continuing towards the goal.
As people in different stages may have different needs, identifying where you are along the stage of change continuum in relation to physical activity is an important step to initiate change. Such awareness can provide you a road map for building necessary skills and knowledge to move forward from one stage to another.
What Stage Are You At?
Instructions: Answer the following questions with "Yes" or "No", and follow the arrows to find out where you are along the stage of change continuum.
Moving from "No Intention To Do" to "Want To Do" Mentality
Many people in the precontemplation stage are under-aware of the health problems that can result from physical inactivity. They may feel that any change in their sedentary lifestyle is unnecessary and have various reasons for not becoming more active (such as "I do not have time", "I am not interested" or "I am too tired to be more active"). Even though those people in the contemplation stage have devoted some thought about the issue, they may experience some real or perceived barriers that prevent them from being more active. However, physical activity is essential for the health of your body and mind
If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you can ask yourself what your reasons (or excuses) and barriers for not being more active are, think whether you want to be inactive for the rest of your life, and imagine what will happen to your health in the future if you maintain the present inactive status. It is thus a good time for you to appreciate what health benefits that physical activity can give you.
If you have a hectic life, finding time for exercise can sometimes be difficult. However, there are ways to overcome those common barriers for being physical active.
Getting Started and Making Physical Activity a "Must Do" Habit
To stay fit and healthy, you need to be more active and exercise regularly. If you do have some physical activities but not on a regular basis, you may need a workable physical activity plan that is accord to your interest, time availability, skills, health status or fitness level. Here are some helpful tips for developing a workable physical activity plan:
- Choose activities you enjoy and that suit your lifestyle and level of fitness. As a beginner, the physical demands of certain activities (such as running) may be too much for you at first. Choose a gentler alternative that you are confident of managing physically and work your way up slowly.
- Set attainable goals and start up with a slow course. Unrealistic goals can result in feelings of failure, leading to avoidance of activity or relapse to inactivity. Therefore, you can start with a goal of walking three times for 15 minutes during the first week. Once it is easy to do, try to do it longer (e.g. increase to 30 minutes), more often (increase from once to twice a day, or from three to five or more days a week) and greater intensity (e.g. walk faster). After a month or two, you can try something new or fit more activities into the existing schedule as variety can enhance adherence to your plan, such as hiking, biking, swimming or any ball games that you enjoy. Above all, the most important thing is to start exercising, regardless of how many minutes you can do at first. With a gradual beginning and small increment in duration, intensity and variety, you soon feel the positive results from physical activities.
- Enlist support. Family, friends and colleagues are important sources of support for behavioural change and keeping you motivated. Let them know of your physical activity plan and invite them to join in.
- Use prompts, such as put up signs or posters at home or in office as reminders to do physical activities.
- Plan some small rewards for the efforts made towards the goals, whether the goal was simply to have exercised 15 minutes a day for a week, or to have walked farther than you did last week. The rewards can be buying a sweatshirt or a pair of walking shoes, going to a movie or taking a bubble bath.
- Use a logbook to keep track of what activities you do and for how long. Such record not only can mark your accomplishments (or lapses), but also enable you to plan ahead and decide where you want to be in a week or a month.
- Eat well and have adequate sleep. Both are the key to energy for physical activity. Healthy eating will ensure proper fuel available to the body during physical activity. However, sleep deprivation can affect your motivation for and reduce the frequency of physical activity (due to excessive daytime sleepiness).
- Have a 'back-up' plan and be flexible for unexpected events. For example, plan some indoor activities when it is raining, the weather is too hot or during thunderstorm breaks, such as taking a brisk walk through nearby air-conditioned shopping mall, working out in a gym, riding stationary bike or exercising to a videotape at home instead of going for a walk. During travel or holidays, plan walking the halls and climbing the stairs in hotel, putting a jump rope in the suitcase for exercise or touring on foot.
Let's Move. Non-communicable Disease Watch July 2009. Hong Kong SAR: Department of Health.
Prochaska JO, Velicer WF. The transtheoretical model of health behavior change. Am J Health Promot 1997; 12(1): 38-38.Marcus BH, Forsyth LH. Motivating People to be Physically Active, 2nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2009.